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ATLANTA -- DeMarre Carroll scored 24 points and the Atlanta Hawks clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 99-86 victory over the Miami Heat on Friday night.

The Hawks wrapped up the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage in the conference playoffs when Brooklyn beat Cleveland 106-98.

Paul Millsap had 21 points and Al Horford had 15 for Atlanta, which never trailed despite playing without injured guard Jeff Teague.

Miami, seventh in the East, had won four of six but fell behind early with cold shooting against the Hawks. Dwyane Wade had 13 points after missing one game with a swollen left knee.

Luol Deng led Miami with 17 points and 10 rebounds.


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2015 front-office rankings: Owners

March, 26, 2015
Mar 26
9:51
PM ET
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Our front-office rankings conclude with a look at the NBA's 30 owners.

We asked our ESPN Forecast panel to rate every team's ownership group. In particular, we asked the voters to rate each team's ownership in terms of their performance in guiding the franchise to overall on-court success, both in the short and long term.

On Tuesday, we unveiled our overall front-office rankings. On Wednesday, we broke down our rankings of team presidents and GMs. And on Thursday we revealed our coach rankings.

Here's how the 30 owners rank, according to our panel:

Owner rankings

RELATED CONTENT

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Windhorst: Gilbert's growing influence on Cavs »

Q&A: Bob Myers on how Warriors' front office works »


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2015 front-office rankings: Coaches

March, 26, 2015
Mar 26
10:07
AM ET
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Our front-office rankings continue with a look at the NBA's 30 current head coaches -- the league's on-court decision-makers.

We asked our ESPN Forecast panel to rate every team's coach. In particular, we asked the voters to rate each coach on his guidance and leadership in terms of how it affects overall on-court success, both in the short and long term.

(On Tuesday, we unveiled our overall front-office rankings. On Wednesday, we broke down our rankings of team presidents and GMs. On Friday, we'll reveal our owner rankings.)

Here's how the 30 coaches rank, according to our panel:

Coach rankings

RELATED CONTENT

Overall rankings | GM rankings | Owner rankings

MacMullan: Brad Stevens' poise key to C's progress »

Arnovitz: Top NBA head-coaching prospects »

TrueLA: The trouble with Doc as Clippers GM »


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Comeback pain: Thomas struggles in return

March, 26, 2015
Mar 26
12:39
AM ET
Forsberg By Chris Forsberg
ESPN.com
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BOSTON -- Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas admitted before Wednesday's game that he was worried about his first fall and so it seemed to take a minute for him to react when he hit the parquet floor hard in the final minutes of the first half while absorbing a charge from former teammate Goran Dragic.

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Thomas
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesIsaiah Thomas struggled in his return from an eight-game absence on Wednesday night vs. the Heat.

And then came the audible groan as Thomas reached for the bruised lower back that had sidelined him the previous eight games, then rolled onto his side in obvious discomfort. Four teammates scrambled over to peel him off the ground, though he likely would have preferred another moment or two to collect himself.

Thomas endured a lackluster return while putting up four points on 2-of-7 shooting over 20 minutes during Wednesday's 93-86 loss to the Miami Heat. He turned the ball over three times and missed three free throws, then suggested it might have been the first time in his NBA career he'd missed three straight from the charity stripe. Thomas went so far as to dub it, "one of the worst games I've ever played."

Thomas' struggles were about the only thing that cushioned his first hard fall.

"I was playing so bad, I didn’t even care about the fall, honestly," said Thomas. "It hurt -- the initial hit when I took the charge -- but other than that, I was all right."

Thomas looked little like the speedy, point-creating dynamo we saw over his first 10 games after joining Boston at the trade deadline. He appeared to be hurting and his limited mobility made it tough for him to stay in front of Dragic, who routinely torched Boston with his speed throughout the first half.

Thomas played less than seven minutes in the second half as Boston leaned on a hodgepodge lineup to fuel their fourth-quarter charge.

"There's no excuses, I have to play better," said Thomas. "I'm my biggest critic, I have to come out and play better, offensively and defensively."

But Thomas was also adamant that he did not come back too soon from injury. He blamed rust, but said he'll work through those woes. Coach Brad Stevens plans to talk with Thomas about his health moving forward.

"Obviously, my bigger concern is, 'How’s he doing?' because he was a little bit out of rhythm tonight, so hopefully that was just a rhythm thing and not how he’s feeling," said Stevens. "That’s what I want to know and we’ll talk about that more. Guys aren’t going to be that honest during the game because they want to play, at least the really competitive ones are that way, and he’s a really competitive one."

Thomas got a loud ovation from the crowd when he checked in for the first time midway through the first quarter. But his presence wasn't enough to light a fire under a sluggish Boston team over the first three quarters.

Asked if he'd be able to play on Friday, Thomas was emphatic he'd be on the floor. And playing better than what we saw on Wednesday.

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Injury-riddled Heat beat Celtics 93-86

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25
10:25
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BOSTON -- Goran Dragic had 22 points and seven assists, and the banged-up Miami Heat beat the Boston Celtics 93-86 on Wednesday night.

Luol Deng scored 15 points for Miami, and Udonis Haslem had 12 points and 12 rebounds. Henry Walker and Tyler Johnson also scored 12 points apiece.

Miami played without Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside and Chris Andersen due to injuries, but bounced back quite nicely from Tuesday night's disappointing 89-88 loss at Milwaukee. The Heat blew a 14-point lead in the final 6 1/2 minutes against the Bucks.

Miami (33-38) has won four of six and is seventh in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Jae Crowder scored 16 points and Avery Bradley had 12 for the Celtics, who remained in the East's eighth and final playoff position.


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2015 front-office rankings: Top execs

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25
9:08
AM ET
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We're continuing our front-office rankings with a look at the league's lead basketball decision-makers -- team presidents, general managers and, in some cases, owners -- the people who have the strongest say when it comes to transactions.

(On Thursday, we'll reveal our coach rankings, and on Friday, we'll break down our owner rankings. Click here for our overall rankings, which we unveiled Tuesday.)

We asked our ESPN Forecast panel to rate every team's basketball decision-maker(s). In particular, we asked the voters to rate each team's front-office management on its guidance and leadership in terms of how it affects overall on-court success, both in the short and long term.

Here's how they stack up:

RELATED CONTENT

Overall rankings | Coach rankings | Owner rankings

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Q&A: Larry Bird on building the Pacers and more »


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Let craziness ensue for East's final 3 spots

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25
2:00
AM ET
Youngmisuk By Ohm Youngmisuk
ESPN.com
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MILWAUKEE –- Erik Spoelstra still looked shell-shocked long after seeing Khris Middleton complete an improbable and stunning fourth-quarter comeback for the Milwaukee Bucks with a buzzer-beating 3.

The Heat coach admitted earlier that morning Miami knew exactly what was at stake on Tuesday night.

The Michael Carter-Williams edition of the Bucks were sinking at an alarming rate in the Eastern Conference playoff standings. Once looking like a lock to make the playoffs, the Bucks dropped six straight going into Tuesday night, and Miami was putting the heat on Jason Kidd's youngsters in the seventh spot and closing.

[+] EnlargeWhiteside
AP Photo/Morry GashHeat center Hassan Whiteside holds his hand after getting a cut that later required 10 stitches.

"We are very aware of the standings," Spoelstra said at the Heat shootaround on Tuesday.

Hours later, Spoelstra's Heat were handed what could be a stinging blow to their playoff chances. Not only did Miami squander a 16-point fourth-quarter lead, the Heat also may have lost their rising center Hassan Whiteside for some time due to a gash between the fingers on his right hand that required 10 stitches and multiple pain-numbing shots.

Spoelstra probably could have used something to numb the agony he was feeling on Tuesday night. The Heat coach knows how things in the East can turn as fast as LeBron James can pen an essay on why he's returning to Cleveland.

With three weeks left in the season, the playoff race in the East might be as crazy as Tuesday night's finish in Milwaukee. With six teams all in striking distance of the final three spots, the East playoffs have basically already begun for the Bucks (35-36), Heat (32-38), Celtics (31-39), Hornets (30-39), Pacers (30-40) and Nets (29-40). Heck, we probably shouldn't count out the Pistons (27-44), either.

Each game now is so critical, and something tells us the Bucks-Heat game might be a preview of more drama to come.

"It's been a fight for us," Dwyane Wade said of the East's bottom half of the playoff standings. "We have been in a fight since the All-Star break. For every team, it is going to be a fight to the last game."

The Bucks were all but dead on this night at the start of the fourth quarter. The sparse crowd in Milwaukee was flat, and Kidd's nursery of inexperienced players looked overwhelmed by the stakes. For second-year infants like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Carter-Williams, this was basically a playoff game. And they struggled badly at times, combining for 12 turnovers. Carter-Williams fouled out with 7:41 left in the game.

But pressure can even get to champions like Wade. The Bucks didn't stop defending with their never-ending length. And soon, an 81-65 Heat lead with 9:53 left was gone with 1:20 to go.

Wade somehow came up with a loose ball and turned it into a layup. Moments later, Wade was fouled and the Heat vet looked poised to seal this game not far away from where he starred at Marquette.

But with 17.5 seconds left, Wade made his first foul shot but missed the second, giving the Bucks life down 88-85. After Ersan Ilyasova made one of two free throws seconds later, Michael Beasley seemed to have the defensive rebound and game secured in his hands.

But Milwaukee's Jerryd Bayless also got his hands on the ball and forced a jump ball. The 6-foot-3 Bayless won the tip over the 6-9 Beasley to the dismay of Spoelstra.

Bayless drove and missed, then a mad scramble ensued for the rebound as the clock was winding down. Somehow, Zaza Pachulia beat the Heat to the ball, saved it as it was heading out of bounds and threw it right to Middleton out on the wing. Middleton then did something no player has done since Kobe Bryant in 2009-10, according to ESPN Stats & Information: He buried his second buzzer-beating 3 in a season.

The Bucks had missed potential game-winning shots three times in the past two weeks before Middleton found the bottom of the net. The shot set off a wild celebration, Milwaukee's version of "One Shining Moment" as Bucks players went flying from all over the court and onto Middleton.

Meanwhile, Spoelstra and the Heat stood and watched in disbelief for several moments.

"Everything that could go wrong, went wrong," Wade said. "It's got to be the perfect storm. Everything went exactly as planned for them, from the save from Zaza to the right guy -- and a guy who doesn't need much time to get it off and doesn't jump on his shot."

"That is the way the cookie crumbles."

Fortunately for the Heat, there's no one-and-done in March in the NBA. The Heat, in fact, left Milwaukee for Boston, where they will play the Celtics in another must-have game.

Spoelstra wouldn't have it any other way. He knows what's at stake.

He just hopes basketball karma will be on his side Wednesday and for most of the remainder of what could be a wild finish in bottom of the East playoff race.

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MILWAUKEE -- The Miami Heat not only suffered a stinging loss at the buzzer to the Milwaukee Bucks but they may have also lost center Hassan Whiteside for some time.

Whiteside needed 10 stitches to his right hand after suffering a gash between the middle and ring fingers on his hand. He sliced his hand hitting the rim and had to leave the game with 5:41 remaining in the second quarter of the Heat's 89-88 loss to Milwaukee at the Bradley Center.

Whiteside had his hand heavily bandaged and also said he got multiple shots to numb the pain in his hand. His availability for the Heat's game at Boston on Wednesday seems doubtful.

"I don't know if I am going to be able to play tomorrow," Whiteside said. "We are going to see how it feels, day to day."

"I can't feel my hand right now," Whiteside added. "I'll know tomorrow morning it will be throbbing and I will feel the pain a lot more."

Whiteside left the game with seven points, eight rebounds and two blocks. The Heat were outrebounded 53-34 by the Bucks, who stunned Miami by erasing a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit and winning the game on a Khris Middleton three-pointer at the buzzer.

Miami, already playing without Chris Bosh for the season, need Whiteside. The Heat (32-38) are fighting for a playoff spot and the 7-footer has been a revelation this season, entering Tuesday night's game averaging 11.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 62 percent shooting.

Head coach Erik Spoelstra said after the loss how severe the injury was to his starting center.


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Following a crazy sequence that included a jump ball and a missed layup, Khris Middleton sealed a victory for the Milwaukee Bucks with a 3-pointer against the Heat.
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MILWAUKEE -- Khris Middleton hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer as the Milwaukee Bucks snapped a six-game losing streak with an 89-88 comeback victory over Miami on Tuesday night in a key game for the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Ersan Ilyasova made the first of two free throws to pull Milwaukee within 88-86 with 12.8 seconds left. On the battle for the rebound, the Bucks' Jerryd Bayless tied up Michael Beasley and won the jump ball.

Bayless missed on a drive down the lane, but Zaza Pachulia tapped the ball back out to Middleton, who buried the winner.

It was a crucial victory for the Bucks, who improved to 35-36 to remain in sixth place in the conference, while the Heat fell to 32-38. The Bucks also swept the four-game season series with the Heat to ensure the tie-breaker between the teams.


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NBA Front Office Rankings 2015

March, 22, 2015
Mar 22
10:07
PM ET
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For the second year in a row, we're ranking every front office in the NBA. And for the second year in a row, the Spurs are No. 1 by a wide margin.

We asked our ESPN Forecast panel to rate every team's owner, basketball decision-maker(s) and coach from 0 to 10, and we then asked the panel to tell us how important each role is.

In particular, we asked the voters to rate each team's front-office management on its guidance and leadership in terms of how it affects overall on-court success, both in the short and long term. From there, we calculated the ratings to determine the NBA's best and worst front offices.

We'll break out the three categories -- owners, team presidents/general managers and coaches -- from Wednesday to Friday.

Tuesday, we unveil our overall rankings, from top to bottom:

RELATED CONTENT

Coach rankings | GM rankings | Owner rankings

#NBAFrontOffice: Our Insiders break down teams that stand out in the rankings Insider


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Why OKC offense can still go without KD

March, 22, 2015
Mar 22
8:12
PM ET
Young By Royce Young
ESPN.com
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Entering Sunday against the Miami Heat, it had been 50 days since the Oklahoma City Thunder had failed to score at least 100 points. A streak of 22 consecutive games.

The Heat finally put an end to the near two-month run, holding the Thunder to just 93 points. The Heat scored only 75, though.

There have been two remarkable things about the Thunder's scoring binge: (1) Russell Westbrook, just in general, who notched his 10th triple-double of the season with 12 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high tying 17 assists; and (2) Kevin Durant only appeared in five of those games.

A longstanding gripe about the Thunder has been their lack of offensive ingenuity, that they seem to waste the transcendent skill sets of two of the most powerful scoring players in the world. (Nevermind that the Thunder have ranked in the top eight the past four seasons in offensive efficiency, and top four in three of those.) The Thunder often stagnate and stall, relying on isolation sets that really come down to whether Westbrook or Durant can make a tough shot. For the most part, it has been a pretty successful scheme, considering the results. But it has always seemed like the Thunder were leaving offense on the table, not taking full advantage of what they could do.

It's the reason that Scott Brooks and his staff began an offensive remodel, starting with the Thunder's summer league team, and into training camp in October. The idea is to create more of a flow system, with increased player movement, passing and weakside actions. Actually implementing it has been a challenge, because of all the injuries the Thunder have dealt with, along with the massive shake up at the trade deadline (four major rotation players weren't with the team in camp).

[+] EnlargeRussell Westbrook
Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE/Getty ImagesRussell Westbrook posted his 10th triple-double of the season, often finding big man Enes Kanter.

So where has this offensive eruption come from?

"Making baskets," Brooks said, without a tone of sarcasm in his voice. "We've got a lot of moving players that can score. The guys that we brought in, obviously Enes [Kanter] and D.J. [Augustin], those guys can score.

"We've had some things we wanted to do to start the season. Obviously things changed, but Russell, our guards are playing well, our bigs are rolling, passing," he said. "We're passing the ball much better, since January on. Obviously when you have more players to add to that offensive package, it helps."

Brooks is always one to deflect credit, and while he deserves a lot of it here for keeping a Thunder team together despite an incredible stream of injuries and roster turnover, so much of the improvement has been in the upgraded personnel. Kanter has been a revelation as a pick-and-roll buddy for Westbrook (39 of Kanter's baskets have been set up by Westbrook, 13 by the rest of the Thunder roster), but has also provided OKC a low-post scorer to settle possessions with.

On Sunday, Kanter finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds, with Westbrook setting up six of his 12 buckets. That's Kanter's ninth double-double since joining the Thunder. In the Thunder's seven-year history in OKC, they'd never had a center register a 20-10 game; Kanter has five already with the Thunder.

"We're implementing new sets by the day to figure out how use his best post-ups, how he likes to catch them, and where he likes to catch on the move, if he likes to catch from a diagonal pick, or a cross screen, or a rip screen," Brooks said. "We just have to figure that out as we see him play in games, but I think he's done a good job and Russell's done a good job finding him."

The Thunder installed a deadly sidescreen-and-roll action with Kanter and Westbrook a couple of weeks ago that has compromised many a defense since. It puts an incredible amount of pressure on the defense, forcing them to make snap decisions, all while Westbrook is zooming at you at full speed. Westbrook's development as the next evolution of a scoring/playmaking point guard is the heart of it all, and since early February has found a special balance between it all.

Add additional weapons such as the sharpshooting Anthony Morrow on the weakside, and the attacking ability of Dion Waiters, plus the offensive rebounding and finishing of Steven Adams, the Thunder have an arsenal at the disposal of Westbrook. They're No. 2 in the NBA in points per 100 possessions since Feb. 1, but how much longer can they sustain that without Durant for likely the rest of the season?

"Do what we doing. Just continue to do what we're doing, Waiters said, pointing at Westbrook's locker. "And it starts with him."

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Dwyane Wade
PTS AST STL MIN
21.5 5.1 1.3 31.7
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsH. Whiteside 9.8
AssistsG. Dragic 5.5
StealsM. Chalmers 1.6
BlocksH. Whiteside 2.5